DECEMBER 7, 2012
I watched the first few seasons of CSI and enjoyed it more often than not, but otherwise I'm not a big fan of procedural television shows, which favor open and shut cases over the over-reaching arcs that actually give you a reason to come back and watch every week. While basic "mythology" can't help but creep into most of them and thus give SOME sense of a progressing story, for the most part I just find them repetitive, built around mysteries that aren't difficult to solve (or at least guess who the killer/rapist/whatever was) and starring characters that never really change. That said, I was kind of charmed that Moon Of The Wolf resembled one of those shows more than any typical werewolf movie I've seen - it was basically Law & Order: Lycanthrope Division.
Indeed, a hefty percentage of its runtime was devoted to our hero cop (David Janssen, one of several actors in the film with amazing voices) talking to suspects and witnesses of the opening scene kill, a procedural show staple. You can almost expect to see a traditional opening credits sequence after Janssen arrives on scene and does some initial investigation of the crime and what may be behind it. And like most of those shows, the first person he talks to is the killer, or in this case the werewolf, so it's pretty amusing how closely it fit the mold considering this was 1972, long before CBS based its entire schedule around such fare. That it is actually a television movie (which aired on ABC - ironically the least procedural-oriented of the four major networks) just made the connection even more apt.
So yeah, it's a bit boring; if you've never seen a procedural (or even a decent werewolf mystery) it might take you 11 seconds to guess who it is as opposed to the 4 seconds it will take the rest of us, but Janssen's hardass performance keeps it from getting too bland, and at a mere 75 minutes it hardly wears out its welcome. I also enjoyed the courtship between Janssen and Barbara Rush, a childhood friend who has harbored a crush on him ever since (it actually comes off as sweet instead of depressing, I should note), and even though it's obvious who the wolf is they actually DO make a pretty good case for the possibility that there is more than one and that it may be her. It'd actually be kind of amazing if there WERE two werewolves, since Kevin Williamson was behind one of the best "two killer" horror movies ever AND one of the shittiest werewolf mysteries ever (though how much of that film's failure is his fault will be forever a mystery; I'd like to give him the benefit of the Weinsteinian doubt but it's not like it's the only bad movie on his post-Scream resume), but alas, it's just the one.
I also enjoyed how the town didn't seem to be too surprised that a werewolf was loose - once it has been identified, a posse is formed, and while absolutely nothing comes of it, I like how matter of fact the main rabble rouser was about the whole thing, and how everyone just seemed to go with it - no "Come on, there's no such thing as werewolves!" type complaints are heard. At first it seems like Cajun superstition and folklore is going to be a factor (an obscure French word provides a minor subplot), as Jansen consults with the housekeeper and she tells him about legends and such, but like the posse, it's just there for a bit of flavor - it doesn't have much bearing on the story. The climax comes down to Rush being chased around by the wolf with Janssen in pursuit; it's like the rest of the town kind of disappears. At times it feels a bit like an old Universal monster movie, so I guess I was a bit bummed that they didn't follow through and give us a climax with a torch wielding mob, especially with the fine Louisiana geography at its disposal.
It's also a bit sloppy, which I guess was probably common in TV movies in the 70s. At one point the wolf tears apart a jail cell door to get at a young Geoffrey Lewis (!), but when they cut to him reacting you can see the shadow outline of the door, still intact (and no shadow for the supposedly advancing wolf, which you'd think would be the obvious thing to do). The makeup for the wolfman isn't that bad, but you don't see it often enough - the movie definitely could have used either another attack scene somewhere around the 30 minute mark, or they could have lengthened one or two of the existing ones. The "rules" are also a bit hazy - it doesn't seem to be full moon based (that or it rises twice in a week), but he apparently can't just change at will or when he gets mad or whatever, either. Silver still applies though, and the look is in line with the Universal and Hammer versions, so that's good.
And again, overall I enjoyed it, and it made me once again bemoan the downfall of "Horror Movie Of The Weeks". The genre produced few bona fide classics, but still, I like the idea that the networks had enough faith in horror to devote a pretty good chunk of their primetime schedule to such fare. I didn't find it particularly scary, but I'm sure it warped at least a couple of impressionable minds when it first aired, just as Don't Go To Sleep did for me and Salem's Lot did for pretty much everyone who read my review. Plus, I'm pretty sure this is the only werewolf-centric TV movie of that era that I've seen, and I'd rather re-watch it than just about any Syfy channel wolf flick I've caught, so there's something.
What say you?